Trump's White House orders former security clearance official not to comply with Democratic subpoena

Trump has ordered a former White House official in charge of security clearance to ignore Democratic subpoenas

By Matthew Rozsa

Published April 23, 2019 9:16AM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Jared Kushner (Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Michael Reynolds/Salon)
Donald Trump; Jared Kushner (Getty/Chip Somodevilla/Michael Reynolds/Salon)

President Donald Trump's White House has ordered a former security clearance official not to comply with a Democratic subpoena that would compel him to interview before the House of Representatives.

Carl Kline, a Defense Department official who previously served as the head of the White House department overseeing security clearances, was instructed by the White House to ignore a Democratic subpoena for him to testify about the controversial overruling of officials' concerns about top administration officials, according to CNN. Kline's attorney Robert Driscoll has indicated that Kline would listen to the White House on this matter, explaining in a letter that "with two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him."

A lawyer for Trump has argued that the House subpoena "unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests," while House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has warned that Kline could be held in contempt. Increased scrutiny has been paid to the process of approving security clearances after a whistleblower named Tricia Newbold, a manager in the White House’s Personnel Security Office, expressed concerns that at least 25 individuals who had failed their security evaluations had been granted access to classified information due to the direct intervention of White House personnel.

One of those was "Senior White House Official 1," later revealed in a memo released by the House Oversight Committee to be Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner:

For example, in the case of one senior White House official (“Senior White House Official 1”), Ms. Newbold explained that both she and the first-line adjudicator issued denials after the background investigation revealed significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities (“employment outside or businesses external to what your position at the EOP entails”), and personal conduct.

However, in the case of Senior White House Official 1, the Director of the Personnel Security Office, Mr. Kline, overruled the determination by Ms. Newbold and the first-line adjudicator. Ms. Newbold informed Committee staff that if Mr. Kline wanted to favorably adjudicate the application, he should have noted in the file how he had considered and mitigated concerns with each of the disqualifying factors, but he merely noted in the file that “the activities
occurred prior to Federal service.” According to Ms. Newbold, Mr. Kline failed to address all of the disqualifying concerns listed by Ms. Newbold and the first-line adjudicator.

The memo further stated that "during her interview with Committee staff, Ms. Newbold stated that White House security clearance applications 'were not always adjudicated in the best interest of national security.' She explained that she and other career officials adjudicated denials of applications for multiple security clearances that were later overturned by senior officials in order to grant the employees access to classified information."

The memo also added, "Ms. Newbold explained that, starting in 2018, she began to keep a list of White House employees whose denials were overturned. Her list eventually grew to 25 officials, including two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals throughout different components of the Executive Office of the President. According to Ms. Newbold, these individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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